Day 1. 23/08
Normally during foreign motorcycle expeditions, we have to first get out of the island by ferry. Not sure about the intensity of “holiday” traffic, we set off early having a lot of time in case of bad traffic. Because the ride is smooth, we are in the port before the scheduled time. We get in a queue and slowly ride towards check-in gates. One by one we pass the guard, who sometimes stops someone randomly for a luggage check. And we are this “random”! Oh, for what we were meticulous packing and clogging every free space in a bags since everything will have to be removed! Fortunately, the customs officer only puts a card with pictures in front of us, asking if we have any of the items shown. Well, the machete would not fit in our luggage. The drawing also shows other tools and knives, but I hope our sheath knife does not count. We deny and the customs officer lets us go without looking into the panniers. Phew!
We still have time, so we use it to chat with others waiting. A lot of people ask us about motorbikes, their handling on different surfaces, or the planned time and route of our journey. Well, our bags are not the smallest, so they certainly attract attention. 😉
Oh, they call the first bikers on board! We ride in and find parallel lines at a distance of about half a meter from each other where we can park motorcycles. Every bike is “fat” because all of us have either aluminium or soft side panniers. Despite this, the staff members try to squeeze us – me and Łukasz in the middle, probably because of the soft luggage. We do not fit between other motorbikes, so surprised workers redirect us to the end of the deck, where we have designated space only for ourselves. For transport, it is recommended to put the motorcycles on a center stand, which our motorcycles do not have. Let’s hope they stay upright until we return.
The ferry crossing runs smoothly, the motorbikes are in one piece, so we leave Calais in France and head south. During the first days, we will cover as long distance as possible to be able to slow down later and peacefully enjoy specific places, their atmosphere and landscapes. That is why today (and probably tomorrow) going through France we will stop only for meals. We rush forward! We cover 650 km when the butts already feel the distance and this is only the first day! Our KTMs are Enduro motorcycles, where you rather stand during off-road riding. And since the seat is rarely used, the manufacturer did not care about making it comfortable. The situation is different during long-distance travel. We will definitely replace seats upon arrival to Cracow. For now, knowing that they are hard and not to good at long route, we have equipped them with sheepskin, which we hope help to relieve ars… pain. 😉
In the evening we get off the tarmac on a side gravel road running to the edge of the forest and there, in the accompaniment of sunset, we prepare to sleep. Because this is the first evening, organisationally we feel a bit clumsy, but it should get better every day. Forecasts do not predict rain at night, so we only set up the inner part of the tent – a transparent mesh through which we can see the clear starry sky and fall into… shallow sleep due to a loud concert of crickets.
Day 2. 24/08
We continue through France and cover another 600 kilometres. We pass through Annecy where I did paragliding long time ago. Traffic in the city slows us down, dusk falls and the further road leads through the National Park in the Alps. We decide it is better to spend the night here because we probably will not find a free patch of grass for a long time. However, today’s accommodation is not the most beautiful.
The road to our field is a dirt, quite clayey path, climbing up strongly. Łukasz overcomes the first short off-road with a new extra load, without any problem. A bumpy road knocks me out. It is a small jump, but enough for me to panic, reduce gas and choke the engine… From half the hill, I have no chance to start, so I roll the motorcycle down and the second time I manage to go on the top! Indeed, a piece of cake, but only if you do not panic unnecessarily! 😉
We sleep along the aforementioned road that climbs even further up. Probably hunters use it because before entering there is a plate with information about the hunting periods. According to it, nobody should hunt us tonight.
Around midnight I am woken up by a loud roar of an engine. It sounds like a small cross motorcycle. I am so surprised. I lie with my eyes wide open and wonder whether to leave the tent and check the situation or rather pretend that we are not here. However, the second option is funny, because you can not miss the tent pitched right on the road. The loud noise suggests that the motorcyclist is standing next to us. He revs up engine for a moment, maybe circles around two loops, stops again, then leaves and silence falls … I sleep peacefully for the rest of the night.
Day 3. 25/08
In the morning, excited and curious about Łukasz’s opinion, I speak to him about the action last night, I describe what I heard, my thoughts and how I felt and Łukasz… apparently slept like the dead all night! Indeed he had earplugs, but due to his fantastic hearing, such noise would wake him up regardless of them. Strange thing… Now I do not know if it really happened or if I dreamed… And I will never find out.
Today we still want to get as far as possible and we hope that this is the last day of rush. Tomorrow we will enjoy the landscapes of the Ligurian Riviera.
Although we choose the fastest roads (though not motorways), we enter the Alps! Here we start to enjoy riding itself because the route is wonderful. We do not need any points to tick to achieve the goals. For a moment I still feel pressure to stick to the plan, but then I give up and it works well for me! Lots of sharp corners with the smooth and properly layed tarmac, varied with beautiful mountain landscapes. Nearby, we pass Chamonix with a view on Mont Blanc and travel through Vanoise National Park. Leaving it, we cross the second, French – Italian border. And then we make a short break in a flat area surrounded by fig trees full of fresh and nutritious fruit! Yum Yum.
We meet a lot of different travellers. We constantly pass by other motorcyclists, sometimes individual, sometimes large groups. Every now and then we join the group, and when they choose a different direction than we, we thank them for the ride and say goodbye with a thumbs up. Everyone without exception greets each other. Here, unlike in Poland and England, motorcyclists greet by showing two fingers set in a Victoria sign. Although we do not know each other personally and see each other only for a short moment, I feel a kind of bond with them and as a motorcyclist I belong to a larger unspoken group. Each subsequent greeting evokes joy and a wide smile on the face. There are also solidarity warnings against radars, police checks, etc. When we pass a large group, not just one person informs about a threat, but every motorcyclist!
In addition to motorcyclists, we pass a lot of push bikers – we also greet them with admiration that they handle the steep slope! And they cycle down at such a speed that it is hard to overtake them!
And the calmest, but no less numerous group of tourists are pedestrians. Some wander with large backpacks from place to place, others have accommodation at the starting point and walk in different directions every day, and yet another group quickly reaches their destination, where they relax most of the day and come back in the evening.
Normally I do not like crowds in places of nature, but here there is a great vibe and atmosphere. Each of us does what we love and there is a space for everyone.
Having heard about Italians’ driving style before, we expected complications in road traffic, but I do not believe it concerns us. We have passed quite a few towns in the mountains, where the maximum allowed speed is 50 km per hour and the Italians adhere to it! They do not make any sudden and unpredictable manoeuvres. Overall, relax!… Until we reach Genoa, the sixth-largest city in Italy with half a million inhabitants. So the warnings were accurate! We get stuck in traffic, a lot of mopeds (where do they come from?!) overtake us from all sides, cars honk and we do not know who at whom and what for. At the roundabout, the policemen try to direct the traffic, but three lanes turn into five and everyone goes down whenever and wherever… Oh, man!! And we have to wade through the city because we stay overnight in the mountains above it.
We escape unscathed! When we reach the top, the sun is slowly hiding behind the horizon. Several other motorhomes took the most spectacular places, but ours is no less beautiful. Mountain ranges stretch indefinitely. Higher peaks rise above the blanket of evening fog cuddling the valley to sleep. Below us, to the east, the lights of the largest Italian port flicker, followed by the navy colour of the Ligurian Sea. This idyll silent view is disturbed by a group of local teenagers gathering for a party nearby. The music is horrible, but fortunately, their party does not last long and around midnight we are alone again… almost, because traditionally crickets give us a concert.
Day 4. 26/08
From the morning we continue to ride on smooth tarmac and gently ascending and descending turns. Every now and again we go through drowsy at this time of day, charming mountain towns. Many old cottages in bright, pastel colours with contrasting shutters in each window stretch along the main narrow street. Now the shutters are open, but probably at noon, when the heat comes, the inhabitants will close them to protect from the too warm sun.
Around noon we reach the Cinqueterre (Five Lands) National Park – the area of the Ligurian Riviera, which consists of 5 towns suspended on sharp cliffs between the sea and the mainland: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. Until the railway line was built at the end of the 19th century, the towns were cut off from the rest of the world, and access to them was through narrow, winding and dangerous mountain roads. We travel by motorbike instead of the popular train that is convenient for tourists. And this is our mistake. Although the ride between the towns is very scenic, it is definitely not a paradise for motorcyclists. The towns are closed to car traffic, and parking a long distance in the suburbs becomes a miracle because the car parks are small and overcrowded. Along the way, mopeds squeeze one after the other leaned against the wall. Our motorbikes are wider, so we cannot do the same! Fortunately, every time, somehow we manage to find a space.
Unfortunately, several additional situations take its toll. Getting changed and securing luggage take terribly long time at every stop. The crowd of tourists makes it impossible to see places in full view. Step by step we must squeeze in the desired direction and be careful not to get trampled. Better to visit out of season! Also, the ubiquitous heat reduces our energy levels and satisfaction. And now we recommend visiting Cinqueterre by train going along the coast with tunnels and steep cliffs, which is an additional attraction.
The small towns themselves are beautiful, atmospheric and despite their significant age and falling facades, they still delight with pastel colours. Steep and narrow streets or stairs lead to the sea in every town except for Corniglia. Between them, there are plenty of hidden, intimate pebble beaches, where it is worth to relax and immerse in the crystal clear water.
In Monterosso, we already know that we will not be able to see all Cinqueterre. So we choose 3 Lands and at the last one, Riomaggiore, we nip out to the beach to swim in the sea and refresh after a hot day. Unfortunately, we do not have much time for this, because soon the sun will set over the ocean, and we still have to go back to motorcycles, get changed, reorganize and go outside the park to find accommodation. It is a pity that we can not stay on this beach as long as we would like to, enjoy a pleasant evening warmth, bath in calm water and drink wine while having a colourful spectacle of the setting sun. And in the morning we could go further. But we cannot have everything. 😉
The first days of the journey are not easy. We get frustrated because of rush, time pressure, logistical problems, other expectations and the desire to kill each other. 😉 We will work on it because holidays are supposed to leave nice and positive memories!
We do not reach the place where we planned to sleep, because it gets completely dark. Instead, we decide to spend the night behind the shed by the road. We do not like this idea, but we do not really have a choice. We hide motorbikes and we lie down along them. The night promises to be cloudless, which is great because there is no more room for the tent. Even better – packing will go faster in the morning. The passing cars are unlikely to notice us. Worse with pedestrians who, due to the slow pace, have more time to get used to the darkness and observe the area. Theoretically, no one should walk at this time in the middle of nowhere. And yet! In the distance, we notice the flickering headlamps. When they almost pass us and it seems that we will stay unnoticed, beam of light falls on our side of the shed and on my unfortunate protruding feet. The girls giggling apologize but they do not come closer. We do not have to guess what they had on their minds. 😉
Day 5. 27/08
Time to explore Tuscany! However, first we must leave the place quite early. We get up before 6 and plan to have breakfast in a nicer scenic spot, so we just pack and move. Not much later we go down to the agglomeration where the cities spreads one after the other. And we are getting really hungry. Finally, we manage the breakfast break next to Lidl, where we replenish food supplies and fix some small things in motorcycles. Łukasz’s horn has broken down! Just in Italy, where he will probably need it the most!
After a break, we head to San Gimignano – one of the prettiest towns of Tuscany. It is called the medieval “Manhattan” because of the number of towers in it. Currently, only 13 out of 70 are left. We are lucky again and we park motorcycles in the last free spaces in the town centre. And in the shade! Getting change and securing luggage go much more efficiently – we gained sufficient experience yesterday. Despite a huge amount of tourists, San Gimignano impresses us. The small area of the old city is surrounded by thick walls giving the impression of security and shielding from the outside world. As usually, at some point we turn in a maze of small streets leading to no one knows where. Although there are not many places to get lost. The city is also famous for the production of great dry white Vernaccia wine, but since we are both motorized, we will taste the wine next time. At the exit, we supply the water from the spring and move on.
The route leads us through the Tuscan hills with gentle bends alternately gently climbing up and going down. No other vehicle disturbs our view – we only have it for ourselves. Despite the bright sun, the surrounding natural colours of the harvested or already ploughed fields please our eyes and hearts. We pass hills covered with vines, fields full of sunflowers with heads tilted towards the sun, olive groves, yew trees in rows leading along paths. And so for half a day, the next kilometres pass in this gentle landscape. The route is beautiful, worth the ride. Especially road SP438 and SP60 between Arbia, Asciano and San Giovanni d’Asso.
Late in the afternoon, we reach Pienza – a reflection of the utopian dreams of its creator – Pope Pio II. The atmosphere in the warm glow of the afternoon sun seems to be drowsy. We go outside the town to look at the famous path and house, whose frame was used in the film “Gladiator”. The title character, just before his death, remembers his family home and this picture appears to our eyes. Cypress alley winding through hills and fields leads to the only, lonely but beautiful home. Dense trees obstruct the view on the spot, so I go downhill full of curiosity. The extending landscape that appears to my eyes has not changed from what I remember from the film! Once you could get here by vehicle, but now the road is closed. In the meantime, Łukasz looks into the nearby 10th-century parish church of Corsignano.
We meet a lot of compatriots here! We chat with the couple who stayed for the night in a tiny, regular village in the middle of nowhere. You probably will not find it on the map. They tell us the story, how an Italian-looking, tall man with a dark-skinned complexion, a sun-tanned face and a large belly (from wine?) opens the door. Hearing who they are, he started to talk to them in Polish! It turns out that a few years ago, the daughter married an Italian and immigrated from Giżycko. Later her father joined her. Ha! Polish are everywhere!
The sunsets slowly in the west, time urges, so we head to the nearby, equally beautiful town Montepulciano – the Renaissance gem of Tuscany. Located above the Valdichiana valley, on a limestone 600-meter hill, it provides us experience when we climb the serpentine curves. We planned to stay here for a night and visiting the area in the morning, but unfortunately, we do not find a reasonable place to sleep. We return to the valley and there we turn into a field path along the cornfield. Bloodthirsty mosquitoes get into us as if we were the first food since their existence, so we quickly hide into the tent and fall asleep immediately.
Day 6. 28/08
We do not want to disturb anyone, so we get up before dawn (it becomes our routine) and pack up for the further journey. We will eat breakfast sometime later because otherwise, mosquitoes would eat us here. As they love a humid environment and there are so many of them here we expected a havy fog in the mornig. But instead of wet luggage and tent w,e see a light mist above the ground. The air temperature is so high that everything evaporates. Gasoline from the tank as well! It is already a few days when we noticed that we have less fuel in the tanks in the morning than the previous evening. No, it does not leak. Probably high temperature causes the liquid to evaporate and escape through the valve as a gas.
We head to the Gargano treed peninsula to enjoy it all day tomorrow. Perhaps we will even give motorcycles a rest.
While crusing towards our destination point, we find a sad view on the way. Young black girls and boys stand by the road probably waiting for the opportunity. They rather do not have loved ones here and their parents sent them overseas with the hope of a better future for them. They were promised easy money for which they would be able to support entire families. Unfortunately, this does not happen and they cannot come back because they have the stigma of illegal immigrants. The only thing they can sell to survive is their own body…
Theoretically, we should be on the scene in the afternoon, but due to forced stops, we arrive in the early evening. First stop requires connecting the chargers to the battery. On another one, we need to transfer gas from Łukasz to my tank. Well, before refuelling, I forgot to turn off the tap cutting off the flow of fuel between the tanks. Due to the difference in the height of the fillers, some fluid flowed out the lower tank, because the liquid always tends to balance the level. Fortunately, I realised it quite early! Also, at one of the stops for refuelling, after unscrewing the cap, my eyes spotted the black pit of the tank instead of a white sock filtering fuel. The plastic from the filter cracked and fell inside together with the sock! How surprised I was and could not understand where the filter was. Several other, though minor adventures, slowed down our arrival. Fortunately, we get early enough to handle organizational issues such as washing, darning and minor repairs. Łukasz initially takes my motorcycle apart, and tomorrow he will take care of the filter.
The place where we stay for the night is wonderful! A long straight road runs between the Adriatic Sea and Lake Varano. We are separated from the sea by a thin zone of conifers because only they are able to grow on sandy soil. They give a shadow and evoke memories of our Polish Baltic sea with the smell of their needles. Not counting the temperature, which does not fall below 30 degrees C, the local climate resembles our seaside.
Once we have organised ourselves, Edi, a Slovenian travelling with his wife in a motorhome, joins us. He tells us about the Slovenian War of Independence with Yugoslavia at the turn of June and July in 1991, also known as the Ten-Day War. I would love to learn a history if it was told the way Edi did. Unlike the way I remember it from my history lessons at school.
It seemed to us that we chose a great campsite – lots of space and richly developed amenities such as grocery store, swimming pool, bar and restaurant. Everything looks very nice until around 11 pm when disco starts and lasts until 2 am! Maybe we would join, but we are too old because only teenagers have access! 😉 However, no one in the area could escape from listening to disco rhythms. A bit further there are animations, fun and games and performances – something nicer to the eye and ear, and ending at a decent time. Well, Italian holidays has own rules! We decide to stay here for 2 nights. I wonder how big party is going to be tomorrow.
Day 7. 29/08
Łukasz gets up earlier than I and finishes assembling the motorcycle back and temporarily joins the fuel filter together. Temporarily, because the manufacturer declared he will send new improved filters that will be waiting for us in the UK. While Łukasz tinkers with KTM I sleep the previous days away.
We spend this day as we wanted to. We leave all stuff at the campsite and relaxed visit the peninsula, making our way along the varied coastline. We also find an off-road path above the cliff and Łukasz would not forgive himself if he did not ride it.
In the middle of the day, we arrive at a restaurant on a cliff by the beach, where we taste fresh seafood and drink lemonade. The time goes lazy, delightfully and all our senses are satisfied. Tasty snacks make our bellies happy, the view and the sound of the sea please the eyes and ears, the smell of tanned skin tickles in the nostrils, and the rays of the sun breaking through the palm leaves pleasantly warm our bodies. After such relax, only one thing is still missing… We ride to an empty beach and take a short bath in the warm sea. Now we are fulfilled. And on the way back to the campsite, we buy fresh local fruit and homemade wine at the market stall. Yum, these are the best!
We needed today’s reset.
Day 8. 30/08
In the morning we set off to Alberobello – the land of over a thousand Trulli houses with conical roofs. You will not find these unique buildings resembling Smurf houses nowhere else in the world. Each next one is more magical. The whiteness of their walls beautifully contrasts with the intense blue of the sky and the vivid colours of the surrounding flowers in pots. Some of them have magic symbols painted on the roof. Those symbols protect residents from curses, bad luck and charms that disturb the peace. The place is full of tourists, but despite this, we find quiet nooks where nobody walks.
In the evening, when our eyes are saturated with the sight of chalk, round houses, we set off towards the setting sun – to Bari from where our ferry leaves to Albania at midnight.
We still have the opportunity to practice driving with Italian and we learn a few nuances. For example, flashing long lights does not mean: “be my guest, I let you go”, but “attention, I go first! You better stop! ” Driving on a red light is also normal. Even the carabineers overtake us on a double yellow line exceeding the speed limit at least twice. Now I am not surprised at the Italian style of driving if they take an example of such authorities.
We check-in at the port as recommended and although the ferry has a long delay – 3 hours, the waiting time passes very quickly. Thanks to Alwin – Belgian, who we meet and who also heads to Krakow, where his girlfriend lives! However, he wants to be there the day after tomorrow, while we still have over a week to Albania and other countries. We chat a lot and it turns out that we like the same way of travelling – the simplest way. Off-road, nature, sleeping under the sky… Alwin has more experience than us, so we get a lot of valuable tips.
When tiredness gets to us on the ferry, we find a great place to stay overnight – an empty room with benches. The ferry is either not crowded at this time of year or everyone has accommodation in the cabins. We pump mattresses and jump into sleeping bags. The rocking waves sing us to sleep.
Day 9. 31/08
Despite a very short sleep, we wake up like every day. Unfortunately, the ferry did not make up for the lost time and delays our start in Albania.
We leave the ship, get stamps at the passport control, we take photos together with the Italians – motorcyclists we met on the ferry and we talk with Alwin for a moment about the nearest plans. It is time for us. We say goodbye, although I feel that our friendship is not over yet. We look for an insurance company to buy liability insurance and Alwin sets off his way…